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Kentucky ag commissioner delays hemp planting due to legal standoff with federal government

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Hemp activists planning to celebrate the crop's comeback in Kentucky this week will have to wait a bit longer to watch seeds go in the ground.

State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said Thursday that a planting of hemp seeds scheduled for Friday in rural Kentucky was delayed because of a legal standoff between his agency and federal drug enforcement officials.

A half-acre hemp plot was scheduled to be planted Friday in Rockcastle County, a move meant to signal the long-banned crop's small-scale comeback.

Comer said his office decided to postpone the planting as his department tries to win the release of a 250-pound shipment of hemp seeds imported from Italy. Comer's department sued the federal government Wednesday.

"I don't want to do something there to jeopardize this court ruling," he said.

The case is being closely watched by agriculture officials in other states thinking about venturing into hemp production.

The seeds for the Rockcastle County planting came from California for a pilot project involving a group of military veterans interested in farming.

Michael Lewis, a farmer who is heading up the project, said the delay was unfortunate and could jeopardize yield.

"They're holding back family farms over what?" he said, referring to federal officials. "We're frustrated, but we're ready to work it out. We want to be above the board. We want to grow this crop. So let's get together and resolve it.

Comer said he's disappointed by the delay but hopes the seeds will go in the ground soon.

Eight hemp pilot projects are planned this year in Kentucky, which has been at the forefront of efforts to revive the crop.

Hemp production was banned decades ago when the federal government classified the crop as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, Cannabis sativa, but hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

The crop's comeback took root with passage of a new federal farm bill. It allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp pilot projects for research in states such as Kentucky that allow hemp growing.

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